Medievia Mudslinger

July 4, 2001 originally published on December 12, 1999

The Case of the False Crystals - by Archus

Act One

This is the city. Medievia City, Medievia. I work here...I wear a breastplate. It was the Day of Honor, the Fourth Day of the Month of the Scorpion, Year 525. It was a magically stormy day in Medievia. We were working the day watch out of Alchemy. My partner's Gannor. The boss is Captain Staelos. My name's Fridus.

9:48 a.m. Gannor and I were reading the morning reports, and we had enough to keep us busy for hours. With so many magic storms pouring energy into the area, every mage and cleric in the city could cast spells for less mana. A group of rag-tag mages decided to band together and use the magic to vandalize and curse property across the city. Fortunately, our night watch apprehended the gang last night, but we had to clean up the paperwork after them. With nothing but the scratching of our quills to tickle our ears, it was easy to notice the monstrous roar resonating outside. By the sound of it, it was a carrier dragon.

The door to the office flew open, letting in the humid air from the storm and the dark-haired person who had paid for the dragon. Wearing a cloak that seemed to fade into the background like water, he brought his tall, stout figure over my desk. He looked as though he hadn't slept in a week. His bloodshot eyes were dark, so dark that it could look into your soul and tear it inside out, but somehow I knew he wasn't that type of a man. I saw pity in those eyes and compassion written across his dried lips. I stood up slowly to receive him.

"Are you the Sergeant-at-Arms?" he asked with a voice that seemed to echo off the very air.

I nodded. "That's Corporal Gannor. My name's Fridus. Please, have a seat."

He took the chair Gannor offered reluctantly as though it would slow him down too much. Flinging back his cloak, the stranger revealed the dark seal of a black dragon on his tunic -- the city seal of Karlisna. The stranger must have caught me staring at his chest, for he managed to crack a smile through his grave face. "Yes, Sergeant, I am an official of Karlisna. My name is Warder Tileus."

I sat on the edge of my desk opposite him and folded my arms. Warders served as the guardians of the Fount of Wisdom in the City of Karlisna, on the eastern coast of the continent. Adventurers sometimes found Dragon Crystals on various creatures throughout the land. Invisible treasures, the Crystals bestowed knowledge and power to those who offered them to the gods at the Fount.

"It's a long way from Karlisna," Gannor said. "What can we help you with?"

Tileus reached for a parchment tucked beneath his belt and handed it to me. "This is official notice from the City of Karlisna that the Fount of Wisdom is closed until further notice. This past week, nine people came to the Fount to offer a Dragon Crystal. We barely get that many a month. Of the nine, seven offered a Crystal that didn't direct energy into them but rather into the Fount."

"I don't follow," Gannor said.

Tileus turned to him and held out his hands while he explained, "When a Dragon Crystal is offered, the Crystal disappears, and the energy from that Crystal enters the spirit of the person who offered it. That's what gives them their increased power. But for some reason, these seven Crystals disappeared and deposited energy into the Fount of Wisdom, and it wasn't in a good way, either. The power in these Crystals, if that's what they really were, was contaminated. In actuality, every offer from one of these Crystals damaged the Fount of Wisdom. At first, we thought it was some sort of fluke having to do with the magical storms that had swept into Tear, but since they've moved down here to Medievia City at the beginning of the week, we figured that couldn't be it. "

"So you're closing it off until you figure out what's going on," I replied. "Are you flying around to all the cities with this proclamation?"

Tileus hesitated. "Not exactly. We've sent notices, but I'm here because I need your help. We've questioned five of the adventurers with the bad Crystals. They all said they found their Crystals here in Medievia City." That caught my attention. Finding a Crystal was hard, but one, let alone five, Crystals in the city was improbable. "They say they found them on the Orcs and thieves around the city, though one of them said he found it on the northern road just next to the Great Tree. That's too much of a coincidence. We need someone here to investigate."

I nodded my consent. "Of course, we'll help any way we can."

Tileus nodded and rose from his seat. "That's what I was hoping for, Sergeant. The adventurers couldn't tell me much more, so I don't have any leads for you. But what I can tell you is that this needs to be resolved immediately. Since we've closed the Fount, we've had to turn away a warrior and a cleric. Let's just say that the situation got a little messy. If more of these phonies keep on showing up, we could have a riot on our hands."

"We understand, sir," I assured him.

10:03 a.m. We escorted Tileus back to his dragon and reported to Captain Staelos. He granted us full permission to use whatever resources we had for this case. Since the first thing we had to do was look for evidence, Gannor and I procured two misty potions that would allow us to see the invisible Dragon Crystals. Neither of us had ever seen one before, but they were unmistakable treasures.

Upon stepping outside, strands of mystical energy curled over our bodies and fingers, tickling our skins but doing nothing for us. Neither of us knew any magic. As expected, the corpses of decapitated janitors and fallen Orcs littered the streets. Dead Orcs we didn't mind. Dead janitors were another thing. For some reason, everyone loved killing them, and that had kept Homicide baffled for decades. As a result, Medievia City had the dirtiest streets on the continent.

Gannor leaned against the wall, wheezing. "Damned magic storms! They always do something to the air!" He coughed a couple of times, and it took a few pats on the back before he settled down again. Gannor stepped back inside for a moment and pulled a small vial brimming with a bubbling liquid out from under his breastplate.

I recognized it off the back. "Are you getting ready to swim? That stuff lets you breathe underwater."

Gannor popped the seal off the vial, filling the room with the scent of the ocean. "Listen, Fridus, if this lets people breathe underwater, it'll certainly let me breathe out there!" He downed the potion in one gulp and shook off the salty taste. After taking a few gentle sniffs, he reported, "Hey, this stuff really works."

I shook my head and stepped back outside. "Okay, Gannor, we've got what looks like phony Dragon Crystals on Orcs and thieves. The problem is that all the Orcs around here are disguised, and we don't want to get into any messy false arrests. As for the thieves, they'll be hard to find."

"Well, who do we normally go to when we don't have any leads?"

I looked at him and returned his grimace. "Scruff."

10:47 a.m. We walked over to the City Square where a congregation of adventurers rested around the city fountain. We found Scruff annoying a pair of warriors like he always did. The city mascot, Scruff was a humanoid dog with gray, wrinkly fur. He wore a striped shirt stained with blood, and his overalls had become faded after all the fights he had been in. He could easily hold his own in combat, but since he annoyed everyone so much, there was always someone trying to kill him regardless of his prowess. As a result, he had lost his left eye some time ago, and he never bothered to wear a patch. Judging by the looks of the warriors he was harassing, he could very easily loose his other eye in the next few minutes.

I gestured to Gannor, and we quickly walked behind the grimy man-dog. "Hi there, Scruff!" I said cheerfully, patting him on the back while trying not to breathe the dust that flew out his fur. "Would you gentlemen excuse us while we had a chat with our friend here? Thank you." The warriors were all too glad to have us take him away, and before Scruff could say anything, I hauled him by his collar to an alley behind the New Adventurers' Guild.

"Whoa! Hey there, Fridus!" Scruff barked. "Gannor, I see you're getting balder. I can fix that, y'know. Just one thousand gold coins, and I'll cut off some of my fur for ya!"

Gannor bit down hard. "It'll take a century to get the fleas out of it."

I interrupted before anyone could take the subject further. "Listen, Scruff, we need to know whether or not you know anything about Dragon Crystals popping in and out of the city."

Scruff scratched behind his floppy ears and began licking his lips. "Well, I don't know. I hear a lot of things, but I don't remember them too well. I may have heard something, but I can't really say for sure."

I knew the game. I reached for the pouch hanging off my belt and pulled out a weapon we had confiscated from a mage not too long ago. I held it up. Scruff's right eye began to glitter in anticipation. "This is a claw from the dragon Shool. It's a pretty good weapon, but I think you're probably more interested in chewing on it." Scruff reflexively reached out for the glowing mass of bone. I held it just out of his reach. "Ah now, Scruff, you know what we want. You going to give it to us?"

Scruff panted excitedly, patting his paws at his floppy ears. "All right, all right! I give! Now, I'm not totally positive, but this is probably what you're looking for. I was walking around the other day when I met this gorgeous girl, and I mean gorgeous! Woof! I felt like nothing but a hound dog that day!"

"Just the facts, Scruff."

"Okay-okay, a group of merchants walked into town last week and haven't left since. They set up shop at the corner of Dragon Court and Aramingo Avenue. Rumor has it that they're making a few backhand deals, and I heard one of the neighborhood pickpockets mentioning he grabbed something from one of them, but he couldn't even see it."

"Sounds like a Crystal to me, Fridus."

"Yeah, sure does," I replied. "Okay, Scruff, here's your bone. And try to stay out of trouble. We don't want to pull you out of another scrap."

The man dog grabbed the claw greedily and quickly began to lick its sides. " Hey, Fridus, I never cause any trouble! I'm going straight now! Haven't you heard? I'm the new spokesman for Daddy-O's Bar and Grill!"

11:45 a.m. After an early lunch at Incredible Edibles, we walked down the street to the intersection of Dragon Court. Sure enough, Scruff had given us good information. The traders were there, operating out of an open wagon. There were five of them, two women and three men who looked like northerners with their fair complexion and light hair. They peddled mostly trinkets and cheap jewelry, but the appeal of their products originated with the claim that they had some magical properties. Judging by the mage who was handing one of the men a pouch of gold, it was probably true. Gannor told me he caught the name of the builder of the wagon etched into the side of the cart, someone named Ylirilei. We returned to the Guardhouse in order to run a make on the builder and ordered a plainclothes Guardsman to keep an eye on the traders.

2:10 p.m. Our imp popped back into the room reporting that Ylirilei built wagons and saddles just outside of Trellor. He reported that Ylirilei remembered the traders and said that they had not only a license but a royal pass from Trellor to conduct business with any city they chose. Using our power to search foreign merchants for illegal alchemical substances and devices, we issued a writ of search and returned to the trade post. Our Guardsman reported one suspicious individual who came to buy a rather large crate of material. He told us that he had contacted the Guardsman on patrol, and that the suspect was under surveillance.

With the writ in hand, we approached the band of traders and identified ourselves. "Excuse me. We're with the City Guard. This is Corporal Gannor. My name's Fridus. We have a writ with us to examine your property for illegal alchemical objects."

The tallest trader, a burly man with a sagging face stained with what looked like venison gravy hopped off the wagon and approached us menacingly. I rested my left hand on the hilt of my sword, waiting patiently for whatever may come. He spoke in a rough Trellor accent and gestured towards his company. "Why are you harassing us? We're peaceful traders. We haven't caused any trouble."

"This is a routine procedure, sir," I answered. "We've been having a problem with certain magical items lately, and we need to make a quick check of your goods. It'll only take a few moments."

One of the women, a short person with a grungy look about her, jumped off the cart and stood behind the person we were speaking to. "We have a royal pass from Trellor!" she shouted, waving a stained parchment in her fist.

Gannor took this one. "We're well aware of that, ma'am, but we still need to look at your cart. If you don't let us, we will suspend your trade license, pass or no pass."

The woman gave the man a look, and judging by the sudden tension in their bodies, I had a bad feeling about what was going to happen. I focused a single thought towards the Guardhouse, activating the golden orb that served as a mind link between Guardsmen. Official organizations and clans could apply to the demigods for one at the cost of a maintenance fee, and using the orb put a person in direct telepathic contact with others within that organization. "Guardsmen in the vicinity of Dragon Court and Aramingo Avenue," I thought, "assistance requested near the eastern gate to the city." Satisfied with the three mental replies I had received, I settled my attention back on the traders.

Finally, the lead trader said, "All right, fine. Go ahead."

I thanked him and climbed onto the wagon. Piles of cloth, cheap stones, and jewelry littered the large deck. Nothing of any real note caught my eye. Gannor started from the opposite end and began looking through the crates and cans. He had found a sack with some daggers, but they had a weapons license. While I was fighting the smell from an open can of spoiled banelar meat, I noticed a thin shadow on the floor of the cart. I traced the shadow with my finger and noticed a small chip in the wood where one could easily insert a pin. It looked like a hidden compartment. I sent a message through our mental link once more. "Suspects on the corner of Aramingo and Dragon Court. Possible contraband. All Guardsmen, converge on the trade cart and prepare to restrain them." In case anyone had noticed, I calmly turned my attention to a couple of crates and began opening them, shifting between the bottles of assorted potions, mostly green healing poultices. A couple of minutes later, the three Guardsmen I had called showed up. It was time to make our move.

Gesturing to the trader I had spoken to earlier, I said, "Sir, I need to know what's in the hidden compartment."

"What compartment?" he asked incredulously. "What are you trying to do?"

"Sir, the key to the compartment," I said in the flattest tone I could carry.

Then I saw it. As anxiety crept up on the trader, I saw his eyes glimmer like rubies for a split second, burning with its own fire. I should have suspected it from the start. I drew my blade from its sheathe and said, "Sir, you and your company are under arrest for suspicion of illegal alchemy and for violation of the Anti-Orc Residency Act. Please assume your normal Orcish forms and come with us."

The beast in him flared up as his face melted into the dark, leathery skin that belonged only to Orcs. He snarled and leapt from the wagon, running around our backup. The others bolted as well, and we were on their heels. I went after the leader while the rest dispersed themselves among the rest. He tried to run south down Dragon's Court, but with his build, I could easily outrun him. Just as I was about to tackle him, he spun around and grabbed what looked like a metal wand from beneath his shirt. Clutching it in his hairy hand, he pointed the device at me and sent a ball of light in my direction. I dove underneath the magic missile and came bearing down on the Orc hard, disarming him in one blow. I shoved my boot up his pudgy nose, sending him down, bleeding dark, sickly blood.

"Stay down if you know what's good for you!" I shouted. As I was about to restrain him, he popped a vial he had hidden under his belt and quickly drank it before I could stop him. He vanished in a swirl of blue and white, the potion probably sending him to another place in the city. When I returned to the cart, the Guardsmen reported that all but one had quaffed a similar potion, and the last one had been slain.

7:30 p.m. We had set up a dragnet throughout the city, notifying Guardsmen by mental link to keep an eye out for the suspects and on the local thug hangouts. Undercover operatives in the Secret Underground later reported a large crate that was passed between the higher level thieves. By dinner, we had the report from the Examiner's Office that there were fifteen Dragon Crystals in the wagon, specially shielded from detection by unknown magical means. We sent word back to Trellor and awaited a background check on the Orcs and on the person who had approved the royal pass. Considering the hour, we decided to call it a night.

Act Two

3:15 p.m., the Seventh Day of the Month of the Scorpion. We had made little progress on apprehending the fugitives but had just received a report from Homicide that four Orcs were found dead beside the banks of the River Courrain underneath the city. They had probably tried to escape out the city sewer and were cut down by the water and sludge creatures down there. Trellor had not sent word back yet, but we expected a report in soon. Their Guardsmen were extremely thorough and reluctant to give out information until they had all the facts. Whatever they came up with, we were betting on their reputations to help us get some lead on the case.

I had just finished a pastry when Gannor walked in with a somber look on his face. He fell into his seat and shook his head. "I just received word from Tileus. Thirty horsemen rode into Karlisna last night and attacked the Warders guarding the Fount of Wisdom. There were ten Warders on guard, and not one left their posts. They're not going to return to their posts either. The riders had more phony Crystals. The Warders are calling for volunteers to help them out. Some of the Avatars around here are organizing a force, but it might not be enough. We're out of time, Fridus. If things keep on going like this, there won't be a Fount of Wisdom left."

"I know, Gannor, I know." Every one of us had faced this moment before when despite all the training and field work, nobody could do anything, but wait for the next lucky break. It was common in our line of work, and it made for terrible nerves. But we were Guardsmen because we were exactly the type of people who could put up with the stress to ensure the safety of the citizens we protected. "That report from Trellor is due soon. We'll find something in there. I know it."

5:52 p.m. An imp appeared in the office with a bundle of parchment from Trellor. Gannor and I spent the rest of the evening going through the information. By tracing a very discreet network of lost records, the Guardsmen had determined that the Orcs had obtained the pass from the current Duke of Trellor, a local warlord who was rumored to be a master sorcerer. Their identities were never verified, being approved on the spot by the Duke himself. What's more, the Duke was currently posted in Medievia City as ambassador.

That was all we needed to know. Despite his diplomatic immunity, Duke Jorgensaut had to be brought in for questioning on accounts for illegal naturalization and alchemical conspiracy. I sent a message to the keeper of Castle Medievia where all ambassadors were housed. I explained the situation and requested the Duke be given up for questioning. Sir Fregenel outrightly refused. Our only recourse was to appeal to the City of Trellor which sent a writ back ordering the Duke to give himself up for questioning.

9:00 p.m. We assembled a full formation of Guardsmen, nine total including Gannor and me. Not only would we have to make a show of force before the Knights of Castle Medievia, we also didn't know whether or not the Duke would cooperate. As a warlord, he was formidable. As a warrior sorcerer, he cast an unstable element to the operation. The armorer outfitted each of us with bronze helmets and shields used only for riots and war. We were also given black marble rings that magically increased our fighting prowess and misty potions that would let us see any invisible evidence. Just in case, I had Gannor bring his own personal equipment as well.

Soon, we were marching towards the Castle armed with writ and numbers. In ten minutes, we stood before the Castle gates where the Knights on duty had called for Sir Fregenel. He appeared with a small contingent of his Knights of the Crown, six fully armored warriors wearing the distinctive magical cloaks embroidered with golden crowns. He towered over us, a six foot three behemoth wearing full steel plate armor with golden tassels hanging off shoulders. He scratched at his thin mustache and stared at me, recognizing the chevrons on my sleeve.

"Sergeant Fridus, I thought I already told you that no guest of the Court would be submitted to any inquiry."

I handed him the writ. "By order of the officials of Trellor, Duke Jorgensaut must resign himself to questioning."

Fregenel glanced over the parchment and ceremoniously tossed it into the castle moat. "Denied."

I couldn't believe it. He had refused an order from the mother city of a foreign official. Why would he harbor the Duke? Fregenel had always been cooperative with our requests in the past. What made this situation different? "On what grounds?" I asked.

"On the grounds that I can reduce your little patrol to a pile of dragon excrement. Now, you can either leave on your own feet or through your undead spirits."

Something was definitely wrong, and it smelled like bad magic. He had been charmed. I didn't know how, but if it was the Duke, then we were dealing with a very dangerous mage. I telepathically signaled Gannor. We would have to distract the Knights, get into the castle, and find Jorgensaut before he could do any more damage. I had a hunch that he was solely responsible for the Dragon Crystals.

On cue, Gannor slipped a prism wand out of his breastplate and sent several rainbow bolts at the Knights. They covered their eyes with their hands and fell back, the colors temporarily blinding them while at the same time giving them a nasty dose of sunburn. I had to blink a couple of times to quell the phantom images floating in the dark, and after leaving the rest of the formation to deal with the Knights, Gannor and I made our way past the castle gate and entered the corridors leading to the guest quarters.

Three Knights of the Sword blocked our path, and even though they wanted our blood, we couldn't take theirs. With his wand spent, Gannor and I didn't have any choice but to engage them hand-to-hand. The only advantage we had was that the corridor could not fit more than two men side-by-side. I made the first attack, bringing my longsword down hard into the first Knight's double-handed blade. The ringing in my ears got worse as Gannor took up his first strike, slamming his shield into his opponent's face. The Knight dropped his sword and fell to the floor, leaving the one behind him to charge at Gannor before he could bring his shield back into a defensive position. I parried the attack, turning the force of the charge aside and into the Knight facing me. While they attempted to recover, Gannor drove the hilt of his sword into the charger's forehead, throwing him back onto the floor. As for the last Knight, I grabbed him by his fancy collar and slammed him into the wall, effectively stunning him.

We continued on with heavy breath, wary of the shadows wavering in the torchlight. We finally reached the hall ending with the guest chambers. What we did not expect to see was a Half-Gryphon standing guard. We had heard rumors that mysterious creatures lived within the castle, but no one had ever seen them save for the Knights. Somehow, Jorgensaut had enchanted one of these mystical guardians as well. The beast had skin that blended with the shadows, hands and feet that ended in powerful talons, and the head of a hungry hawk. Bristling with muscles, he flexed his broad wings before tucking them neatly behind him, crouched to pounce on us. When I saw his eyes glow, I knew we were headed for trouble.

"Gannor, shield!" I shouted. Just in time, we protected our faces from a stream of white light meant to blind us. "You got any tricks we can use here?"

Gannor removed a potion filled with a swirling light blue liquid, the same kind that the Orcs had used to escape us. He popped the seal, the strands of mist creeping over his wrist. "If we get him to swallow this, he'll be teleported away. I don't know where, but if we move quickly enough, we can grab Jorgensaut and have him undo his spells before the Gryphon can scare anybody too badly."

I knew exactly what to do. I took the bottle from him and charged the Gryphon, shielding myself from the stream of fire shooting out of his talons. I sidestepped the beast and slammed the neck of the bottle into his roaring beak. The potion quickly took hold, sending the Gryphon off with a puff of blue mist.

Gannor rushed over and kicked in the door to the guest chamber. We entered the room with weapons ready, finding Jorgensaut's short, stocky figure crouched over a book by the dresser. What would normally had been a pristine stateroom draped in satin and decorated by ivory statuettes had been converted into a magical workshop. Half empty jars glowing with potions littered the room, and obsidian statues gleamed eerily in the soft yellow light put out by a crystal stone in the center of the room, floating in midair. We had never seen one before, but Gannor and I both recognized it to be a Dragon Crystal, probably the largest one ever discovered. A series of staves drew strands of energy from the Crystal into the common stones beneath them. These stones slowly transformed before our eyes, assuming the shimmering appearance of Dragon Crystals. It was him all along. He had made the Crystals and distributed them using the Orcish traders as a front.

"All right, Duke, it's over. You're under arrest for illegal alchemy and illegal naturalization."

The Duke turned around as if noticing us for the first time. His eyes glowed evilly, and the large flaming sword at his waist did little to calm my nerves. He laughed at us, contorting his round face in maniacal mirth. I saw a face I would never forget, harsh and scarred from his scalp to his right eye. He wore the official robes of an ambassador from Trellor, but the burning in his eyes and the evil that permeated his very odor destroyed any illusion of civility he may have once maintained. He had to be much more than a sorcerer.

"Why'd you do it?" I asked demandingly. "What have you to gain from destroying the Fount of Wisdom?"

Jorgensaut's chuckle rumbled against the floor. "Because it was the first strike, the first blow that the gods would never recover from. I've spent so much time testing different rituals, watching what they would do to the Crystals. When I found a way to reverse their magical energies, I found a way to convert the Fount into a nexus for my own energies, energies that would let me free my brethren from the Catacombs. Do you really think you can stop me?" He turned away and continued reading his book, mocking us through dismissal.

He was probably some sort of demon -- way out of our league. But it came with the territory. We had sworn ourselves to preserve peace in Medievia, and right now, peace rested upon whether or not we could take this monster down. I wasn't about to go back on my word, and neither was Gannor.

"Got anything else on you, Gannor?" I asked hopefully.

"A prayer. Vryce help us all if we let this thing live."

"Amen," I replied. "Let's go!"

We both charged, and just as our swords were about to slash into his back, Jorgensaut whipped around, driving back both attacks with one swift arc from his flaming sword. I could feel the heat seep into my gloves as I fell back. Gannor recovered first, sending three consecutive attacks that missed. Jorgensaut drove his foot into Gannor's shield, denting it. As I was about to assist my partner, the monster opened his hands and sent seven magic missiles at me, the balls of magic exploding against my breastplate with white light. I staggered back, but I pressed on, distracting him long enough for Gannor to bring his sword down into Jorgensaut's left shoulder. Black blood oozed from the wound, burning away the carpet as it fell onto the floor.

Jorgensaut's scream sounded like a thousand people crying out their death knells. Fire filled the room, the streams of magical energy radiating from Jorgensaut towards us. We brought our shields forward, feeling them melt underneath the magical onslaught. I wanted to let go of the handle, but despite the tremendous heat biting into my fingers, letting go would mean death. When the fires subsided, I dropped the shield from my smoking glove. Gannor was also nursing his arm, and Jorgensaut stood between us grinning maliciously.

"Oh, no shields? For shame."

Again, a shower of magic missiles pelted me, sending deadly energy against my breastplate. Soon, my armor would be useless. Despite my body crying out in tremendous pain, I lashed out once more, but in my weakened state, Jorgensaut easily disarmed and backhanded me. I was on the floor again, and Gannor's attack fared little better. As good a swordsman as he was, Gannor didn't stand a chance. I looked around the room, desperate to find something useful among the arcane artifacts. I didn't recognize any of the wands or staves lying on the ground, and going through potions I had never seen before would probably not be a good thing. The only inherently good object was the Dragon Crystal, and nobody understood how that exactly worked.

We needed outside help. I drew up what mental strength I had, fighting back the soreness in my limbs and the fire in my chest. In an instant, my message had been sent. I only hoped he would get here on time. Gannor had been driven back to the wall, so I rose groggily and retrieved my sword. I had to buy time. Once again, I lunged at the monster, but when he countered with his own slash, I held my ground and leaned into my attack. Gannor came at him from the back, the only tactic that would keep him on his toes. This time, Jorgensaut spun out and pressed his free hand into Gannor's face, chanting a spell that dropped him to his knees, clutching at a face that had been frosted over. Before Jorgensaut could kick him, I tackled the Duke, making him lose his balance. With that advantage, I drove my sword upward, catching him across the chest. This time the blood flowed onto my glove, eating away at the already worn down leather. Jorgensaut sent a lightning bolt flying from his fingertips, blasting me across the room. With that my strength had been spent.

As he was about to cast another spell, the imp I had called appeared with a bag in one hand and a wand in the other. Before Jorgensaut could recover from his surprise, the imp began firing the platinum wand, specially charged for city use with a dozen high energy missiles. During the rapid onslaught, the imp tossed a bundle of potions to both me and Gannor, golden and magenta. The gold quickly healed our wounds while the magenta would enchant us with mystic armor for a short time being. I swallowed both of them, nearly choking on the second one. Instantly, I felt the pain subside, and both me and my partner readied ourselves for the second round.

With the imp sending a constant stream of white light at Jorgensaut, we came in with full force, but again, he parried despite the magical attack. I could tell his reflexes had slowed, but was it enough for either of us to take the advantage? I drove my sword at his side, and while he parried that, Gannor brought his sword against Jorgensaut's right leg, biting into it until he lost balance. As my sword fell towards his face, he chanted a spell that send another surge of electricity through my body. I turned away long enough for Jorgensaut to parry Gannor's attack. The Duke rolled away, sending a fireball from the palm of his hand towards the imp. I saw our messenger roll across the floor, his chainmail smoldering from the magical flame. The imp hadn't signed up for combat when he had joined us, but over the years, he did everything that was needed of him, even to come lay down his life for us. I didn't know if he was dead or alive, but it didn't matter. Jorgensaut had hurt someone who shouldn't have put up with this at all.

I dove for the still smoking wand and sent another volley of magic missiles at the monster. He reeled back from the onslaught, covering his face from the arcane pummeling. It only had three charges left, and that would do nothing more than stun him for just a moment. "Gannor!" I shouted. "It's now or never!"

My partner jumped up and spun on his heel, sending his sword on a dangerous arc that caught Jorgensaut in the side. The monster's deafening scream confirmed how deep the blade had gone in. I sent a couple of magic missiles towards the wound, causing him to clutch it as he felt the energy seep deeper into his body. Gannor inverted the grip on his sword and drove it down into Jorgensaut's back. The cry of anguish and pain literally shattered the windows in the room, and the evil energies within his body flew out like a shockwave, stinging my skin and even eating away at the very stone of the castle. A moment later, it was all gone, and somehow, the air had become easier to breathe.

Gannor pulled his sword out of the corpse and wiped it across the body. Searching the corpse, he didn't find anything remarkable. I went to take a look at our imp. He had been through a lot, but he was all right. I removed a golden potion from his backpack and poured it into his mouth. He recovered quickly and staggered up. I told him to return to the Guardhouse and report what happened, that we would need an Examination team up here on the double. He saluted and disappeared. Gannor agreed that he deserved a commendation.

9:55 p.m. Three Guardsmen and one Knight fell in the battle at the gate, but after Gannor had killed Jorgensaut, Sir Fregenel had come to his senses and revived all of them with a Gem of Souls. The Examination team had tagged most of the items in the room, but they had no clue as to what to do about the large Dragon Crystal Jorgensaut had been taking energy from. I decided that the only ones who could probably explain it were in Karlisna. Gannor and I took the stone and called two dragons. The golden beasts began circling over us and then slowly landed, being polite enough as not to roar at this time of night.

"Good evening, dragons," I said. "We're on official business, and we need to get to Karlisna immediately."

The lead dragon nodded, and with me on his back, we flew into the night sky towards the crescent moon. After the battle and all the magical storms, the fresh air slamming into my face and between my hair felt good. The trip was uneventful, though Gannor constantly cried out as his dragon maneuvered in formation with mine. Despite the comic relief, I wouldn't feel secure until after we had brought the large Dragon Crystal to Karlisna. Within an hour, the ruined City of Karlisna loomed before us. Once a majestic metropolis, long forgotten wars had reduced much of the city to an ashy ruin, but the good people of the city strove to rebuild the grand streets designed especially to accommodate dragons. As we drew nearer, I could make out a large camp outside of the city, no doubt the headquarters for the people who held the city under siege. Upon seeing us, several magic missiles flew up, none of them accurate enough to hit us.

Our dragons dove towards the city's eastern district, foregoing the conventional spiral landing in spite of the danger. Just a hundred feet off the ground, my dragon reared back, flapping its mighty wings while it clawed his way to a halt. I nearly flew off the saddle, my stomach churning in the quick landing. Gannor's mount followed, but he was screaming the whole way down. We dismounted and thanked our carriers for the flight.

When we turned around, two Warders and a volunteer thief approached us with glowing hands and drawn daggers. I raised my hand in peace. "We're Medievia City Guardsman. This is Corporal Gannor. My name's Fridus. We'd like to see Tileus."

A shout came from across the street. "Here, Sergeant! Please come!"

I walked over to find Tileus standing in the shrine to the Fount of Wisdom. I had heard that it was a marvelous structure, but after the attacks, the white marble had been reduced to crumbling black chunks. The mighty dragon sculpture at the center of the Fount spewed a thin trickle of grimy water from its lips, its outstretched wings almost falling off its shoulders. I looked down into the pool of oily liquid filling the fountain halfway. Never had I seen such disrepair. As for Tileus, the siege had taken its toll on him. His cloak soiled and his face stained with flecks of dried blood, he looked as though half of him had died.

"By Vryce, I had no idea," Gannor whispered.

Tileus nodded solemnly. "Why are you here? Did you learn of something?"

"Yes. The Duke of Trellor did it. We gathered he was actually some sort of demon out to secure his own power. He was making false Crystals using his own magic and the energy in this." I removed the large Dragon Crystal from a bag on my waist and held it before Tileus. The Warder touched the edges of the shimmering stone gingerly. "We didn't know what to do with it."

Tileus smiled for what was probably the first time in days. "This is the Great Crystal, an artifact long lost to us! It was found by the first Warder when he had traveled into the Catacombs. It was with this Crystal that the gods gave life to the Fount of Wisdom. The first Warder had returned the stone to the very core of our world where it was said to have been held by the Goddess. This is exactly what we need to bring strength to the Fount once more!" He looked at me anxiously. "You must offer it!"

"Gannor, it was your kill. I think you ought to do it."

He shook his head. "No, Fridus, I was just following orders. You do it."

Judging by the sound of his voice, he wouldn't take no for an answer. I took the Crystal and laid it gently at the feet of the stone dragon. "In the name of Vryce and for the safety of the people of Medievia, I offer this Crystal to restore the Fount of Wisdom. Will you hear me?"

A ray of sunlight sprang from the night onto the shrine, its energies soaking into the stone. For a moment, the dragon stopped pouring liquid and actually came to life, its stone skin healing underneath beams of sunlight. It roared, sending an echo across the horizon that didn't chill the blood so much as it quickened the heart. Soon, the white marble returned to its pristine self, and the dragon returned to its stance, spewing turquoise waters glinting with gold. The Fount of Wisdom had been reborn, and with it, the Great Crystal disappeared, flying into the womb of the dragon with golden light. Soon, the eyes of the dragon glowed and sent a beam of energy into the sky, sending comets down towards the earth to destroy the evil in the false Crystals. A final comet exploded over our heads, sending a gentle shower of glittering sparkles upon us that felt like warm snow. In that instant, I felt power and insight that I had never known before. With its final beam, the Fount of Wisdom bestowed upon me its gift. Cheers ran from the battlements, and as the volunteers crowded around us, Warders immediately called dragons and imps to send the good news across the land.

"You did it, Sergeant!" Tileus shouted over the cheers. "We can now end the siege, and adventurers across the realm can once again earn the power that the Fount offers."

"Just doing our jobs," I replied. "The real heroes are the volunteers, the ones who didn't have to come but felt it was their civic duty to protect the peace. Save your thanks for them." And that included our imp. Gannor and I shook Tileus' hand and headed back to the dragons. Our place was in Medievia City.

11:30 p.m. We had preserved the peace in two cities that night. It was the one reward that made being a Guardsman worth it.


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